Sporting Kansas City managed to pick up another road point in Houston on Saturday, but were unable to capitalize on two red card ejections by the home team beyond a single goal to guarantee the draw. Such a result does extend their unbeaten streak to 11 games in MLS competition, and, while most fans of Kansas City would have loved to take a point going into the match, many came away feeling that it was yet another opportunity to get the win but had to settle for less.
Brad Davis continued an unfortunate streak for Kansas City when he managed to score early in the 8th minute off of a very decently struck free kick, though some people contend that Jimmy Nielsen could have done better and may have been worried about his front teeth being knocked out by the post. Considering the physical abuse that Nielsen has put himself through in the name of being keeper (a particular face-save at near point-blank range comes to mind), I have to say that sometimes self-preservation is too strong of an instinct to overcome rather than getting too upset about a goal that still took a great amount of skill by Davis.
Houston was then able to hold off multiple good attempts by Kansas City through the first half and into the second before starting to self-destruct a bit. Colin Clark was given his marching orders on a pretty bad, studs-up tackle on Aurelien Collin in the 51st minute. I don't think Clark could disagree with the decision by the referee, Kevin Stott, too much - it was definitely within the realm of tackles which can get you sent off. Perhaps in a game which was less chippy or in another season where multiple leg-breaks had not occurred, he might have been able to stay on with a Yellow and a very stern talking to. But it did have a bit in common with the Mullen/Zakuani incident in that it appeared Clark might have been fouled by Roger Espinoza immediately prior to the tackle and was somewhat frustrated with losing the ball - I wouldn't say it was nearly as bad as Mullen's attempt, but I also feel that it might have been in the back of the Stott's mind.
The second sending off was hardly as contentious. Brian Ching, for a reason that only he knows, went ahead and kicked through Aurelien Collin well after Collin had dumped the ball off to a teammate. Stupid is pretty much the only thing needed to describe the incident, and it gave Sporting a full 20 minutes with two extra men to pick up points on the day.
Despite the two-man advantage, Kansas City took until the very last minute of normal time to come up with the equalizer. Of course it had to be Aurelien Collin again, this time taking a shot that we usually do not see the central defender take. Tally Hall was sent the wrong way for what we can only guess was a deflection, though the replays don't show very well whether or not this was the case. Hall had been amazing up until that point, making many, many great saves in an effort which had seemed to have single-handedly save all three points for the disadvantaged Houston side.
The point keeps Kansas City at a 1 point-per-game average away from home, a very decent mark in a league which tends to have a very strong home field advantage and even better considering the tough 10-game road trip to start the season off. Whether or not Kansas City will look back at games like these and bemoan the fact that they couldn't pick up the 3 points when they had a good opportunity to will be determined in the remaining games, a vast majority of which occurring at home with only three road games remaining.
Honestly, I can't decide exactly how I feel about the situation - which is one of the main reasons that this blog post is coming as late as it is. Is a road point a good result? Yes, particularly against a decent team like Houston and in a place we have historically not played terribly well. Did Kansas City come out and play poorly? I don't think so - we created a ton of chances, both before and after the red cards were brandished against Houston's player. Is it disappointing that Kansas City gave up yet another early goal and continues to put themselves into a hole, game after game? Disappointing isn't the only thing, it's also incredibly frustrating that Kansas City continues to put itself in positions where the opposition has the advantage - it makes the game so much harder since the opposition knows that all they really have to do is not concede and they come out victorious and that Kansas City has to come out and attack - leaving them open for counter-attacks. Is it a game that a team that wants to be a contender for the MLS Cup needs to win? I think so, but fortunately there is time for the team to adjust to games like these in order to position themselves as contenders later.
It is safe to say that Tally Hall had to have yet another great game in goal to keep Kansas City off the board, in what seems to be an endless streak of great goal keeping performances preventing Sporting from walking away with multiple goals in each match and, more than likely, two extra points as well. Whether it is the last-second save-off-the-crossbar by Pickens in the Colorado game or the numerous saves by Kennedy against Chivas, Sporting has to feel that they aren't going to have multiple save-of-the-week candidates made against them and some of these opportunities are going to make their way in. That said, one can look no farther than the Conor Casey strike to see what could happen if they simply give the keeper no chance in the first place.
I do think that people tend to over-estimate how much easier it is to score on a team who is down a player or even two. Sure, there is an advantage there, but if a team normally has two players up-top then being down two players simply means that there's nobody to dump the ball off to in order to relieve pressure. The players that an offense has to break down and beat has not changed a great deal, and, if anything, now that the team knows they don't have anyone to try and create any bit of offense with, they all are even more resolute in defense. The biggest advantage that a team can get out of such a situation is being able to keep their fullbacks forward the entire time and get their center backs into the mix. I also would tend to think that having so many people in and around the box really reduces a bit of the game to luck - you're probably more likely to score on a random deflection than a well-designed play which manages to make its way around the 8 opposing players and not have one of your own players get in the way. Perhaps if these were the top players int he world, the type of precision required to break a team down in such a manner would be available... but even the top EPL teams have trouble breaking down a bunker, MLS is no different.
Still, Kansas City needs to start taking these draws and making them into wins, they need to stop conceding early and making it hard on themselves and they definitely need to start putting away their chances in such a way that no goal keeper can stop them. Easier said-than-done, yes, but if Kansas City has any real aspirations for the MLS Cup then these are the things they're going to have to start getting done.